- 1 Why Buy a Portable Ice Maker?
- 2 How Does a Portable Ice Maker Work?
- 3 What Features Should I Look For in a Portable Ice Maker?
- 4 Review of The Best Portable Ice Maker to Buy in 2020
- 5 Top-rated Portable Ice Maker Comparison Chart
- 6 Tips on How to Use a Portable Ice Maker
- 7 Conclusion
A portable ice maker is exactly what it says it is: a machine that makes ice in a compact and lightweight form. Most are functionally similar, but there are differences in quality, efficiency, and design to consider before you buy one. Read on for all the info you need on the best portable ice makers to buy, so you can decide which is the right one for you.
Why Buy a Portable Ice Maker?
If you’re reading this, then there’s a high probability you’re curious about portable ice makers and wondering if you should buy one. They’re still niche products, but they can be incredibly convenient in a variety of situations.
Here are a few reasons why you might want one:
- You have a lot of parties and gatherings where you need ice, but it’s inconvenient to always go out and buy another bag.
- Most portable ice makers can produce between 24 and 26 lbs of ice per day, which should be enough for your small bar or eatery.
- An ice maker is necessary if you live in a dorm or small apartment and want access to ice at home, but you don’t have a freezer that makes it.
- Your local water supply is not suitable to use with a built-in ice maker (unsafe or hard water).
- You often go camping or stay in a cabin with no place to buy ice around.
- A reliable ice maker can help you save time, money, and gas instead of buying ice at the store or getting a freezer just to make ice.
- If you work in a small office with no room for a large refrigerator, where people have drinks more than food, a portable ice maker is the way to go.
- You like to chew ice but want something softer that doesn’t damage your teeth.
- Really, an ice maker is not a must-have kitchen appliance, but nothing beats that feeling you get when you know you don’t have to re-fill ice trays in the freezer regularly.
How Does a Portable Ice Maker Work?
Making ice using a portable ice maker starts with you pouring in clean water. From there, the ice maker turns the water into ice via the refrigeration cycle, the same process used in a refrigerator or freezer. However, a key difference (explained below) makes it quicker and more energy-efficient than making ice in freezer trays.
The Refrigeration cycle depends on a coolant, a substance which absorbs heat as it changes state (transfers) from liquid to gas, and releases heat when transferring back to liquid. Usually this is R-134a (tetrafluoroethane), but manufacturers are not always explicit about which chemicals they use.
A compressor feeds the substance through a small hole, using pressure to turn it from liquid to gas.
The refrigerant then travels through condenser pipes, which dissipate heat and allow it to return back to liquid form. In a refrigerator, this happens on the back, which is why those pipes get hot. In a portable ice maker, it occurs inside the unit and hot air is blown outside by a fan.
The expansion water valve releases pressure, rapidly cooling the refrigerant by turning it back into gas.
Evaporator pipes carry the very cold refrigerant to the interior of the device.
This is how a portable ice maker is different from a freezer:
In a freezer, the cold air coming off of the evaporator cools the atmosphere inside, indirectly cooling the water stored there until it freezes.
In a portable ice maker, prongs attached to the evaporator directly contact the water to lower its temperature to freezing.
Direct conduction (heat transfer by contact) is a much more efficient method of heat transfer than convection (through the air), so the portable ice maker’s prongs produce ice faster using less energy.
When the ice cubes are large enough, these prongs are heated – but only enough to cause the ice cubes to detach and fall into the ice bucket.
In most portable ice makers, extra water in the basket from melted ice drains and cycles back through to make more ice.
What Features Should I Look For in a Portable Ice Maker?
1. Speed, Production and Size
A good portable ice maker should produce 9-12 ice cubes per batch in 6-7 minutes, which is often enough for 2-3 small drinks. It also should be as compact as a 4-slice toaster oven, so that it won’t take up too much counter space and can be easily stored away when not in use.
Keep in mind that smaller units often work faster and produce smaller ice sizes than the big, heavy ones. With less room for air to circulate, these models also make colder ice and keep it frozen longer. So, make sure you know the size of your ice maker as well as the dimension of the space you intend it to fit in.
2. Special Features
Underside drain plug
Even with a basic ice maker you will have a drain plug to drain remaining water after you’re done using it. For quick and easy water draining, find a machine with the drain plug located on the bottom of the reservoir.
If you have owned a conventional ice maker, you might already know the natural minerals in water will eventually start to build up inside your device and then significantly affect the ice production. Not only that, after a short period of regular use, you will start to notice that the ice is decreasing in quality, which is caused by contaminants in the water. That’s why ice makers with mesh filters are becoming popular.
With the ability to prevent dust and other particles from getting into the ice, these models can prevent your ice from being contaminated, thus preserving its original look, taste and aroma. A mesh filter also helps keep the machine clean and running efficiently without requiring regular maintenance or cleaning. Just make sure to replace it with a new one at least once every year to ensure the best possible performance of your machine.
Many affordable ice makers feature this function which allows users to turn on/off the machine on their own schedule. We don’t think the function is really necessary, but for many people it can be helpful.
This feature is often available in premium models. Thanks to this advancement, cleaning your portable ice maker shouldn’t be a burden.
3. Ice Shape
Most portable ice makers produce bullet-shaped ice (aka pearl ice), which is typically perfect for iced tea, margaritas, soft drinks, and blended drinks. As the name suggests, this ice is shaped like a small bullet with a hollow in the middle and can be cloudy or white through.
Compared with dice ice and crescent ice, bullet-shaped ice melts and cools your drink more quickly, meaning it will change the flavor of your drinks drastically. That’s why this ice is not absolutely suitable for sipping drinks like whiskey and cocktails.
There are also models that produce nugget ice which is ideal for fountain drinks, soft drinks, and blended cocktails. This chewable ice is easy to break down when chewed. So, if you love chewing ice, we think a countertop nugget ice maker can satisfy your craving. In fact, many nugget ice makers consume less energy than other types, thus saving you money on your utility bills.
That being said, with the soft consistency, nugget ice seems to melt and water down your drinks very quickly. So, if you want ice that lasts, this small, soft kind probably isn’t suitable for you.
Review of The Best Portable Ice Maker to Buy in 2020
- Vremi VRM010636N – Best to Buy in 2020
- Frigidaire EFIC206 – Best Value Portable Ice Maker
- Euhomy IM-F – Best Efficient Portable Ice Maker
- Luma IM200SS – Best Clear Portable Ice Maker
- Igloo ICEB26 – Best Igloo Portable Ice Maker
Here are our picks for the Best Portable Ice Makers.
1. Vremi VRM010636N – Best to Buy in 2020
Specs-wise, the Vremi is a pretty standard portable ice maker. It produces 8-gram bullet-shaped ice cubes in 8-10 minutes and 26 lbs in a day, drawing from a 2.2L water reservoir. It’s able to store about 1.5 lbs of ice at a time. Many models can claim to make ice faster, but you will find that those produce lower quality ice.
Weighing about 21 pounds, with a footprint of 13.5 by 12 inches, the machine is fairly compact and light, but not the lightest option on our list. Like most others, it has a removable basket and an included BPA-free plastic ice scoop for easy, hassle-free ice retrieval.
The interface is simple to operate, with only an on/off button and warning lights for when the ice bucket is full or when the water is low. You can easily check the ice-making progress through the transparent viewing window.
Another couple of great features are the automatic shut-off function and an underside drain plug which makes it quick to drain remaining water. Thanks to this property, the machine itself can detect the ice level in the basket and automatically turn off when it’s full, removing the need to monitor it.
Remember that your portable ice maker is not a freezer. Since it doesn’t have a cold storage bin, it can make ice but can’t keep it frozen. Your ice cubes often melt if left in the basket after one to three minutes, depending on models. And when unused ice melts, the ice maker will recycle the water to make new batches of ice automatically.
With a thick layer of PU foam that insulates the heat very effectively, this ice maker can keep the ice cool longer than many conventional models. The only drawback is that while most portable ice makers can make from two to three sizes of ice, the Vremi VRM010636N offers only one ice size option. But we think many people will love the small ice size which is perfect for mixed beverages and small water bottle openings.
The Vremi is made of stainless steel and has received an ETL and FTA certification to guarantee its safety. Thus, you can trust that it’s safe and well designed.
2. Frigidaire EFIC206 – Best Value Portable Ice Maker
If you’re on a budget and looking for a basic model of portable ice maker that works well, the Frigidaire EFIC206 has you covered.
For such an inexpensive model, the Frigidaire EFIC206 offers more than you would expect. It comes equipped with almost all the same specs and features as the Vermi, including the automatic standby and indicator lights.
In terms of performance, it works faster than the Vermi VRM010636N and is the fastest ice maker on our list, at under six minutes for small nine-cube batches. It also has the option of large cubes, though those take longer.
Compared with our top pick, the Frigidaire EFIC206 has a larger storage capacity. It can hold 2.65 lbs of ice and nearly a gallon of water at a time. That’s enough ice for 10-12 small drinks.
Despite this large capacity, this small portable ice maker is one of the lightest portable ice makers on our list, measuring about at 17.86 lbs. It’s also very compact and portable with a footprint of 15 by 14.5 inches. That may be because its body is mostly made of plastic, which is probably why it offers a 90-day warranty rather than the 1-2 years of some others. But if you don’t mind that, this model punches above its low price in every other category. It even includes a scoop!
Reviewers point out how quiet the EFIC206 is, and indeed its noise level is listed as less than 38 dB. They also like the large clear window that lets you view the progress of ice making without opening it, and have rated it as the best portable ice maker for camping. They do note that you’ll want to run the occasional cleaning cycle in addition to a wipe-down.
A note: while the EFIC206 seems to be a new product, it’s actually just the latest version of the Frigidaire ICE206, which has been a popular entry-level portable ice maker for a few years and was even recommended by the New York Times. The EFIC206 has replaced the ICE206, which is currently only available refurbished.
3. Euhomy IM-F – Best Efficient Portable Ice Maker
The Euhomy IM-F may look ordinary, but it stands out due to its ability to produce an exceptional 40 lbs of ice per day. Perhaps it’s able to do this because of some upgrade to the technology, as it’s quite a new model— first released in October 2019. According to our research, reviews so far are highly positive, praising its speed, ease of use, and stylish appearance.
The machine is made of stainless steel and includes an LCD screen along with all of the notable features that we’ve highlighted on the top pick (automatic shut-off function, see-through window, underside drain plug, and two ice size settings). The added value is that you can use the timer to produce ice for only a specific amount of time and it will notify you when it’s done.
The Euhomy IM-F works very efficiently, producing 24 small ice cubes in 12 minutes and large ones in 18 minutes. Its removable ice bucket carries 2.2 lbs of ice at a time, ensuring there’s always enough fresh ice on hand.
The water reservoir has a wide opening and is very easy to fill. Just remove its cover and pour water (you can use a cup or measuring jug) directly into the water reservoir while it’s still attached to the machine. In addition, it has a large storage capacity (2.2L), which is enough to produce at least 5 cycles of ice without the need for refilling.
The countertop ice maker also has a low-noise, high-speed exhaust fan which carries heat away from the coils, and it includes a BPA-free plastic ice scoop. It does all this despite operating at only 115 watts, which should save significantly on electricity.
4. Luma IM200SS – Best Clear Portable Ice Maker
All of the products on our list so far make rounded bullet ice, which is the natural result of producing ice on round prongs. That ice tends to come out a bit cloudy and melt faster than what you would get in a restaurant. However, it is possible to make restaurant-caliber clear ice cubes which look great and melt five times slower than others. If that’s something you would want, the Luma IM200SS is your machine.
Most ice made by conventional ice makers, whether portable or built-in, looks different from what you would get at a nice restaurant or bar. Its cloudy appearance is caused by impurities – air bubbles and minerals. The Luma IM200SS eliminates these by running the water over a filter, leaving only pure clean water. It then builds up the ice in layers and uses a nickel-plated grate to form these into a cube shape.
Despite the extra process, the device is just as fast as its bullet ice competitors, producing a batch of ice in 7 minutes, with a potential of up to 28 lbs of ice per day. It’s made of stainless steel but offers only one ice size option. It also has received safety certificates from Intertek UK, ETL, TUV Laboratories in Germany, and the US FDA. The only trade-offs are a slightly higher cost, and a bit noisier ice-making process.
The Luma IM200SS is a great choice if you run a small restaurant, cocktail bar, or cafe. It may even be worthwhile just to impress your friends and family with high quality, beautifully transparent ice.
5. Igloo ICEB26 – Best Igloo Portable Ice Maker
Igloo is a famous brand for coolers which signifies quality, but few portable ice makers carry this brand name. Of those that do, the ICEB26 seems to be the top pick.
Igloo claims its ice maker can make nine cylinder-shaped ice cubes in under 7 minutes and is capable of putting out 26 lbs of ice per day, while operating at a low volume of only 38 decibels due to its high-quality compressor. It does all this despite operating at only 110 watts, which should save significantly on electricity.
Despite the small size, its easily removable ice basket can hold up to 2.2 pounds of ice at a time and the 2.2L water reservoir is large enough so that you won’t have to empty it as often.
The Igloo ICEB26’s plastic body is a winner though, with its smooth retro curves, large clear viewing lid, and LED-lit buttons. It just looks stylish, which is enhanced by several color options. The Igloo ICEB26 comes in white, black, red, aqua, and even stainless steel (albeit at a higher price tag). It’s completely reasonable not to spend a large sum of money on fancy ice makers when a little one like the Igloo ICEB26 can get the job done. It’s a nice blend of price and functionality, and it enjoys positive reviews among owners. So if you like the looks and brand name, this model is worth a shot.
Top-rated Portable Ice Maker Comparison Chart
|Ice Maker Model||Ice Type||Production per day (lbs)||Material||Size
(w x d x h inches)
|Vremi VRM010636N||Bullet - S||26||Stainless Steel||16 x 15.3 x 12 inches|
|Frigidaire EFIC206||Bullet - S/L||26||Plastic||14.9 x 14.7 x 11.4|
|Euhomy IM-F||Bullet - S/L||40||Stainless Steel||14.1 x 11 x 13.7|
|Luma IM200SS||Clear cubes - one size||28||Stainless Steel||11.3 x 14.8 x 14.1|
|Igloo ICEB26||Bullet - S/L||26||Plastic or Stainless Steel||9.61 x 14.69 x 12.4|
Tips on How to Use a Portable Ice Maker
Portable ice makers are, by and large, extremely simple to operate. There are a few variables that can affect your results, however.
To begin the ice making process, pour fresh cool or room temperature water, not warm water, into the unit’s water reservoir. You can use tap or distilled water depending on your preference, but distilled water is likely to look and taste better.
Portable ice makers are usually insulated, but they’re not freezers. After your portable ice maker does its job, you’ll want to remove ice from the tray or it will just melt again and can form a block of ice in the basket. If you are using ice often enough that it doesn’t have a chance to melt, you may be fine just adding water occasionally. However, if you can’t use it right away you can place it in bags in a freezer or cooler. Here’s a basic set of reusable ice bags.
Most portable ice makers come with an ice scoop, which you should always use. You don’t want to put your bare hands in the ice maker – it’s not just uncomfortable, it’s unsanitary. These included scoops are generally plastic, however. If you happen to break yours (or it’s just not included), this stainless steel scoop would make a solid replacement.
If the ambient air temperature is too high, the portable ice maker may not be able to make ice quickly. Even when it does make ice from the start, the first few batches of ice are likely to be softer and melt faster than you would like. Once the coils get cold enough, these problems should go away.
Soft ice with more bubbles melts faster, and machines that produce it ice up more often. If that happens, you’ll just need to turn your portable ice maker off for a while.
The compressor is the most common reason a portable ice maker fails early on. After shipping, the gas refrigerant inside likely needs to settle. For this reason, it’s a good idea to let your ice maker sit upright for a day or two before you turn it on.
Cleaning a Portable Ice Maker
You don’t want to ruin your ice with the presence of mold, so you’ll have to clean your portable ice maker occasionally. In general, this is a simple process. Some portable ice makers even have a designated self-cleaning cycle which doesn’t make ice. Usually this just runs water through the device, which you can then drain.
For those that don’t have this feature, running a normal cycle (or several) with a 10-1 solution of water and vinegar should do the trick (don’t use the ice this makes). In fact, even for those that self-clean, mixing in a bit of vinegar is a good way to ensure you don’t have any lingering buildup that can cause bad tastes and smells.
However, you will still want to clean the basket when it is clear of ice. A thorough wipe-down with a damp cloth or paper towel (vinegar is optional but advised) will do the trick. If your ice maker has an infrared sensor, you’ll want to wipe that off too to ensure it continues to read properly.
If you’re thinking about getting a portable ice maker, you probably already know why you need it. In truth, there isn’t a whole lot of variation between models, so you should feel free to select the model that best suits your taste and budget. All of the models on this list are the best portable ice makers out there, which would be a great addition to your kitchen, office, camper, or anywhere else that you need a regular and convenient supply of ice.